Skip Navigation

Home : Reports, data & tools : County Profiles : Kittitas County Profile

Kittitas County Profile

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment |
Industry employment | Wages and Income | Population


Regional context

Kittitas County is in the center of the state, 100 miles east of Seattle across the Cascade Mountain Range. The county is bordered by Chelan, Grant and Yakima counties. With 2,297 square miles, it is one of the largest counties in the state. Over two-thirds of its area is hilly and mountainous, making it sparsely populated with 17.8 persons per square mile compared to 101.1 in Washington state in 2010.

Local economy

Native American inhabitants in the Kittitas Valley date back almost 300 years in official records. The forerunners of the contemporary Yakama Nation occupied the land along the Yakima River, including the Kittitas Valley. The 1840s saw an influx of Euro-American settlers who brought measles and other diseases deadly to the indigenous population. The Treaty of 1855, following the Cayuse Indian War, resulted in the tribes moving to the Yakama and Colville Reservations. The 1883 Washington Territorial Legislature split off the northern part of Yakima County and recognized it as Kittitas County.

White settlers engaged in livestock raising, crop farming, dairying, logging and lumber processing and mining. Irrigation promoted an expansion in agriculture and food processing. By 1950, agriculture was the leading sector in employment and income.

The horse industry, including horseracing, showing and recreation horses increased the demand for hay. Also, by the 1960s many ranchers switched to hay and grain production as feed costs rose and price controls limited beef profitability. Today, Kittitas County’s hay is shipped to Asia and Europe, as well as to Kentucky and other states. Kittitas County remains a major producer of cereal grain and livestock.

Government is now the largest employer in the county. According to the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, four of the top five employers in Kittitas County are government organizations. Central Washington University, Kittitas Valley Community Hospital, Kittitas County, the Ellensburg School District and Anderson Hay & Grain are the top five employers.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,297.27 66,455.42
Persons per square mile, 2010 17.8 101.2



The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. The effects of this recession altered Kittitas County’s labor market heavily in 2009. Total covered employment in the county peaked at an annual average of 13,966 jobs in 2008 but dropped 4.8 percent, to 13,300 jobs, in 2009. Losses were especially severe in construction which provided 939 jobs countywide in 2008 versus 615 in 2009 – down 34.5 percent. Since, total covered employment has been on the rise. Specifically, total covered employment:

  • Edged upwards 0.6 percent (up 84 jobs) in 2010, to 13,384.
  • Rose 0.6 percent (up 83 jobs) in 2011, to 13,467.
  • Increased 0.9 percent (up 127 jobs) in 2012, to 13,594.

A review of total nonfarm August 2013 employment estimates shows:

  • As of August 2013, Kittitas County’s labor market has added nonfarm jobs for the past fourteen months (from July 2012 through August 2013).
  • Construction has posted over-the-year job growth for the past eleven consecutive months (from October 2012 through August 2013). Statewide, this industry has grown for 18 months (from March 2012 through August 2013).

Most trends indicate that job growth will continue countywide and statewide through the balance of calendar year 2013.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Unemployment rates in Kittitas County declined every year from 2003 through 2007 (before the recession). Rates ranged from a high of 7.7 percent in 2003 to a low of 4.8 percent in 2007. They increased each year from 2008 through 2010, during the recession, to a high of 9.4 percent. They then declined in 2011 and 2012.

Between 2011 and 2012 in Kittitas County:

  • Not seasonally adjusted unemployment declined from 8.8 to 8.3 percent, a five-tenths percentage point contraction. In comparison, Washington state’s unemployment rate decreased one full percentage point (from 9.2 percent in 2011 to 8.2 percent in 2012).
  • The average number of unemployed fell from 1,860 to 1,730, or 130 fewer Kittitas County residents out of work.
  • The civilian labor force (CLF) decreased by 300 in 2012, from 21,040 to 20,740 residents, a 1.4 percent over-the-year downturn. The state’s CLF did not have a particularly good year either - virtually stagnating between 2011 and 2012.

The August 2013 unemployment rate in Kittitas County was 7.0 percent, a one and three-tenths percentage point decline from the 8.3 percent reading in August 2012. This August was the eighteenth consecutive month of year-over-year decreases in the local unemployment rate (from March 2012 through August 2013).


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Kittitas County was slow to react to the recent Great Recession and has also been slow to recover:

  • Total nonfarm employment peaked in 2008 at 15,090 jobs.
  • Employment then declined to 14,410 in 2009, a downturn of 4.5 percent.
  • Employment increased in 2010 by 2.3 percent due primarily to increases in government and accommodation and food services.
  • Kittitas County’s nonfarm labor market increased by 50 jobs during 2011 led by 180 job increases in information and financial services and health care and social assistance. Government declined by 30 jobs in 2011. Educational services at the state and local governmental levels provided 50 fewer jobs in 2011 versus 2010, accounting for the majority of this downturn.
  • Total nonfarm employment in 2012 decreased by 70 jobs, to 14,720, a 0.5 percent downturn. Educational services at state and local governments provided 80 fewer jobs. There were also declines in construction and accommodation and food services.

August 2013 nonfarm employment estimates indicate that employers in Kittitas County provided 14,270 nonfarm jobs in August 2013, a 330 job and 2.4 percent expansion from the 13,940 in August 2012. Kittitas County’s labor market has added nonfarm jobs for the past fourteen months (from July 2012 through August 2013). Businesses and government organizations across Washington supplied 2,948,600 nonfarm jobs this August (not seasonally adjusted), compared to 2,881,800 jobs in August 2012, a 2.3 percent over-the-year statewide employment increase. Washington’s labor market has been growing for 35 months (from October 2010 through August 2013). Trends indicate the local economy improvement is following the state’s.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Industry employment by age and gender

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

The Local Employment Dynamics (LED) database, a joint project of state employment departments and the U.S. Census Bureau, matches state employment data with federal administrative data. Among the products is industry employment by age and gender. All workers covered by state unemployment insurance data are included; federal workers and non-covered workers, such as the self-employed, are not. Data are presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

The two largest jobholder age groups in Kittitas County were the 25-34 year olds and the 55-year and over category. Each of these age groups accounted for 20.9 percent of employment in 2011, followed closely by jobholders aged 45 to 54 at 20.2 percent.

In 2011, women held 50.4 percent of all jobs in Kittitas County. However, there were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (85.9 percent), transportation and warehousing (81.8 percent) and utilities (75.9 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.0 percent), finance and insurance (71.1 percent) and professional, scientific and technical services (66.0 percent).

Wages and income

(Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey)

The top five Kittitas County industries in 2012 in terms of payrolls were:

  • State government - $96.4 million.
  • Local government - $84.8 million.
  • Accommodation and food services - $37.0 million.
  • Retail trade - $36.8 million.
  • Health services - $29.1 million

The top five Kittitas County industries in 2012 in terms of employment were:

  • Accommodation and food services - 2,276 jobs
  • Local government - 2,136 jobs
  • State government - 1,966 jobs
  • Retail trade - 1,554 jobs
  • Health services - 1,061 jobs

Total covered wages in 2012 in Kittitas County were $453.2 million and annual average covered employment (which includes agricultural and nonagricultural jobs) was 13,594. The annual average wage in Kittitas County during 2012 was $33,339.

  • Accommodation and food services provided 16.7 percent of all jobs countywide in 2012 but only 8.2 percent of total covered wages.
  • Local government accounted for 15.7 percent of all employment in the county and provided 18.7 percent of total covered wages.
  • State government was 14.5 percent of all jobs but provided 21.3 percent of wages. State government (heavily dominated by CWU) and local government payrolls combined to account for 40.0 percent of total covered wages in 2012.
  • Retail trade stores supplied 11.4 percent of all jobs countywide in 2012 and 8.1 percent of wages.

Personal income

Personal income includes earned income, investment income, and government payments such as Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Investment income includes income imputed from pension funds and from owning a home. Per capita personal income equals total personal income divided by the resident population.

Per capita income in Kittitas County was estimated at $33,031 in 2011, 75.3 percent of the state average and 79.5 percent of the U.S. average. Kittitas County ranks 25th in the state for per capita income.

Earned income in 1971 made up 71 percent of total income of the typical Kittitas County resident, but by 2011 earned income was only 57 percent of total personal income.

Government transfer payments as a proportion of county residents’ personal income have increased from 13 percent in 1971 to 21 percent in 2011.

Investments as a proportion of county residents’ personal income have increased from 16 percent in 1971 to 22 percent in 2011.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income in Kittitas County was $42,769 in the period 2007 to 2011. This was less the statewide median household income of $58,890 and the national median income of $52,762 during the same period.

Kittitas County’s poverty rate of 22.3 percent in the period 2007 to 2011 was much higher than the state’s rate of 12.5 percent and the nation’s rate of 14.3 percent, according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts. Relatively low student wages often increase poverty statistics in college-dominant counties such as Kittitas.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Kittitas County’s population in 2012 was 41,672. The population grew 1.9 percent from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2012, slower than that of state’s 2.6 percent growth rate during this timeframe.

The largest city in Kittitas County is Ellensburg, the county seat with an estimated population of 18,320 in 2012.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Population 2012 41,672 6,897,012
Population 2010 40,915 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2012 1.9% 2.6%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

In 2012, a slightly larger portion (13.9 percent) of Kittitas County’s population was 65 years and older compared to the state (13.2 percent).

The county had a lower proportion of its residents under the age of 18 (17.8 percent) in 2012 than the state (23.0 percent).

Females in 2012 made up 49.4 percent of the population, below that of the state at 50.1 percent.

Kittitas County is less ethnically diverse than the state and nation. In 2012, 92.3 percent of its residents were white, higher than the state (81.6 percent) and the nation (77.9 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kittitas County Washington state
Population by age, 2012    
Under 5 years old 5.1% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 17.8% 23.0%
65 years and older 13.9% 13.2%
Females, 2012 49.4% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 92.3% 81.6%
Black 1.2% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.1% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 2.4% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 8.3% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Slightly more Kittitas County residents age 25 and older (90.7 percent) were high school graduates compared to the state (89.8 percent) and the nation (85.4 percent) over the period of 2007 to 2011.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 32.5 percent of Kittitas County residents age 25 and older, which compares favorably with 31.4 percent of state residents and 28.2 percent of U.S. residents over the same period. Having a major university (Central Washington University) in the county accounts for the higher adult population educational levels.